It’s one of the best pieces of currency an NHL team has, but is it right to spend it? That’s the debate a lot of GMs are having right now when it comes to first-round draft picks. The Boston Bruins just surrendered their 2020 selection in the deal that landed them Ondrej Kase from Anaheim, but the B’s aren’t alone in mortgaging their future in favor of the present.
Previous deals have seen five other 2020 first-rounders moved and in some cases, we already know it didn’t work out for the team that parted with the pick.
In Toronto, the Maple Leafs tossed away their first selection in order to get rid of Patrick Marleau’s onerous contract. True, the Leafs were strapped for cap space – but Carolina simply bought out the veteran, paving the way for Marleau’s return to San Jose. Was there no path for Toronto to jettison Marleau for a second-rounder? Even with the cap space, Toronto will be hard-pressed to get out of its own division – if the Leafs qualify at all.
Elsewhere, we have the growing concern in San Jose, where the free-falling Sharks gave up their pick in the Erik Karlsson trade. At the time, it was an all-in move by a franchise that had serious championship designs out west – now we might see the Ottawa Senators picking first and second overall, should the lottery balls favor the Sens.
Of course, San Jose did not expect to be this bad and injuries to Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture and Karlsson himself precipitated the drop – but so did dodgy goaltending and we all knew that has hampered the Sharks for awhile now.
So the Sharks find themselves worse than they have been in decades with no light at the end of the tunnel – and this is a deep draft! Even picking fifth or sixth could net a franchise a player who could be a difference-maker within a couple seasons.
Perhaps the strangest scenario of late involved the Pittsburgh Penguins. Back in 2017, GM Jim Rutherford thought his reigning Stanley Cup champs needed some muscle, so he gave up a first-rounder as part of a deal that brought enforcer Ryan Reaves over from St. Louis. Reaves flopped in Pittsburgh and was traded to Vegas for Derick Brassard – but then Reaves became a hit with the Golden Knights and helped that team make the Cup final.
Of course, we have seen future champions make the sacrifice count. The St. Louis Blues sent a 2019 first-rounder to Buffalo as part of the mega-deal that made Ryan O’Reilly a member of the Blues two years ago and O’Reilly helped St. Louis win its first-ever Stanley Cup. So that one was worth the gamble. It’s also worth noting that when the Penguins won the Cup in 2016, their first-rounder was traded to Toronto in the Phil Kessel deal – so that panned out, too.
The vexing thing, of course, is that only one team wins the Cup every year, yet in the past five seasons, we’ve seen about nine first-rounders change hands per draft.
Of the teams that have already moved first-rounders this time around, only Boston and Pittsburgh can be considered serious contenders. Tampa Bay still has its own, while already trading a first-rounder previously acquired from Vancouver in the Blake Coleman deal. So it was best of both worlds for the Lightning. Funny enough, the Bruins, Pens and Bolts will likely have to go through each other just to get out of the Eastern Conference this spring. So at least one team is going home without a championship or a first-rounder.
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